Anecdote – Eight years old and lost on the London Underground
Walton and Hersham were a very second rate football team. They played in the Ishmium League, whatever that is, and I used to go along with a group of friends from my estate because they might have been second-rate but they were our team. Most of the crew who met up at the ground were older boys. Walton was never going to be a big club – we won some and we lost some, and dribbled along. It was even clear to we small lads that we were nothing special and not destined to amount to much. That didn’t matter. They were still our team and we had allegiance. Besides, I was only eight. There were more important things.
Then a miracle happened; we won a few matches in the FA Cup and we were drawn against the mighty Hammers from the 1st Division. West Ham was a top team and this draw caused a great deal of excitement. Walton and Hersham were going to play at Upton Park, a first division venue. It was extremely exciting.
Plans were drawn up. A group of the bigger boys were going all the way up to London to support Walton. It was quite an adventure. Of course I wanted to go. After much wheedling my mum agreed. She made the older boys promise to look after me.
We set off on the train. We arrived at Waterloo and transferred to the Tube. I’d never been on a Tube train before. We were having a great time. Everything was new. Even our sandwiches tasted special. We arrived at Upton Park. I couldn’t see a thing because I was tiny and we were at the back. All I could see was the backs of the men in front of me. But the atmosphere was brilliant. The noise and the way they all surged forward every time the ball came up our end, the chanting and hand-clapping. It was all very tribal, primitive and dangerous. You could smell the hormones as you were crushed in the throng. All those minds were locked in together with one focus. It set the pulse racing.
Of course, we were soundly beaten but that was exactly what we had expected. We knew we didn’t have a gnat pee in a hurricane of a chance. That’s not why we had gone. We’d gone to soak up that atmosphere and feed it into our dreams. It was an experience.
After the match it took us a while getting out of the ground and we were late. We had to run. We had to make it back to Waterloo to catch our train.
I remember running along in the subway trying to keep up with the older boys. They kept urging me to go faster but I only had short, little legs. At the top of the last flight of stairs we could hear the underground train pull in with a big swoosh of air. The boys ran like mad and leapt down the stairs with me pelting along on their heels. They bounded across the platform and jumped on board. As I got there, a few seconds behind, the doors slid shut with me out there stranded on the platform. It was one of those frozen moments. I stared at them in horror as the doors clunked. At the window of the door I could see all the faces of the boys peering back out at me. Their faces mirrored mine but no amount of anguish was going to open those doors and with a squeal the train slid away.
I stood there in disbelief with my mind racing. I didn’t have a clue what to do. I didn’t know where I was going or how I was going to get there. I was utterly lost. I was eight years old, on an underground platform in the bowels of London, a long, long way from home. Then the tears started.
A man came across and asked me what was wrong. Between sobs I managed to tell him what had happened.
He very kindly took care of me, calmed me down and reassured me that my friends would be waiting for me at the next station. I was not so sure. He calmly took me on the next train. We went along with me distraught and him reassuring me. I thought I’d never see them again. But sure enough at the next platform and there were my friends. They were as worried as me. They thought I was lost forever and they’d get the blame. They’d got off the train and were in a hopeless dilemma as to what they should do. They weren’t sure whether to wait and hope I’d be on the next train or to come back for me.
I rushed out and we all had a great reunion with much shouting and clamour. I’m not even sure if I thanked the kind gentleman who’d rescued me. He’d been an angel. I still feel guilty. But I was in such a state.
It didn’t matter anymore; we’d been reunited. I did not have to spend the rest of my life wandering the London underground. I had been saved.
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